Long-eared Owl

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Common Name: Long-eared Owl
Scientific Name: Asio otus

Size: Males 13 ½ inches (34 cm); Wingspan: 38 inches (96 cm)

Habitat: North America, Africa and Eurasia; widely distributed in North America, Eurasia and northern Africa. Found in open woodlands, forest edges, riparian strips along rivers, hedgerows, juniper thickets, woodlots, and wooded ravines and gullies. Breeding habitat must include thickly wooded areas for nesting and roosting with nearby open spaces for hunting. During winter, they need dense conifer groves or brushy thickets to roost in. Roosting sites are usually in the heaviest forest cover available. Unlike most other Owls, during winter they may roost communally with 7 to 50 Owls..

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 1,500,000 to 5,000,000. Many are killed by shooting and collision with vehicles. Natural enemies of adult birds include Great Horned and Barred Owls. Raccoons are major predators of eggs and nestlings.

Diet: Primarily on mammals. In most areas voles are the most common prey, but deer mice are the most important prey in other areas. In southwestern deserts, pocket mice and kangaroo rats are primary foods. Other mammal prey includes squirrels, bats, chipmunks, gophers, shrews, moles, and cottontail rabbits. Birds are also taken, occasionally on the wing. Most bird prey are smaller species that occur on or near the ground. Bird prey includes meadowlarks, blackbirds, juncos, Horned Larks, doves, bluebirds, and thrashers. Larger birds such as grouse and screech-Owls are occasionally taken. Long-eared Owls sometimes eat insects, frogs, and snakes.

Long-eared Owls hunt mainly by ranging over open rangeland, clearings, and fallow fields. They rarely hunt in woodlands where they roost and nest. They hunt mainly from late dusk to just before dawn, flying low to the ground, (1 to 2 meters (3 to 7 feet)), with the head canted to one side listening for prey. When prey is spotted, the Owl pounces immediately, pinning the prey to the ground with its powerful talons. Smaller prey is usually swallowed immediately, or carried away in the bill. Larger prey is carried in the talons.

Nesting: Females are larger than Males. Males occupy nesting territories first and may begin their territorial calling in winter. Nesting occurs mainly from mid March through May in North America. During courtship, males perform display flights around nests. Display flights involve erratic gliding and flapping through the trees with occasional single wing claps. Females respond by giving their nest call. The female selects a nest by hopping around it, while the male displays above. She then performs display flights as well, and flies repeatedly to the nest. Leading up to mating, the male approaches the female after calling and performing display flights, then waves his wings as he sidles up to her. Mutual preening and courtship feeding also occur. After pairing, adults roost close together, but the female tends to roost on the nest after it has been selected. Long-eared Owls nest almost exclusively in old stick nests of crows, magpies, ravens, hawks, or herons. They nest rarely in rock crevices, tree cavities, or on open ground. Nests are almost always located in wooded sites, often screened by shrubbery, vines, or branches and are commonly 5 to 10 meters (16 to 33 feet) above ground.

Long-eared Owls have an impressive nest defense display - the female spreads her wings out widely facing the intruder, flares her flight feathers, and lowers her head. This display makes her appear 2 to 3 times as large as she really is. They also perform a distraction display near nests, where the Owl pretends to capture prey, or feign injury, and flop away from the nest on the ground making various noises. They will occasionally attack viciously, aiming the talons at the face and throat of the intruder.

Old nests are lined with bark strips, feathers, leaves, and moss before eggs are laid. Clutch sizes range from 3 to 8 eggs, with an average of 4 to 5 eggs. Clutch sizes tend to increase from south to north and from east to west. Eggs are laid irregularly every 1 to 5 days and incubation begins with the first egg laid, so that a clutch of 6 eggs may hatch over a period of 10 to 12 days. The female performs the incubation which lasts 25 to 30 days. Nestlings begin to walk out of the nest onto nearby branches at about 3 weeks, but are not capable of flight until about 5 weeks. Young become independent from parents at about 2 months. Nesting success is strongly linked to food availability and predation.

Long-eared Owls are usually single-brooded, however double-brooding has been observed. If a clutch of eggs is lost, a replacement clutch may be laid about three weeks later.

Densities of breeding birds are relatively low, except when local food and nesting habitat availability allow loosely colonial nesting.

Cool Facts: The Long-eared Owl was first described in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778). Other common names for Long-eared Owls are American Long-eared Owl, Brush Owl, Cat Owl, Pussy Owl, Lesser Horned Owl, Ceder Owl and Coulee Owl.

The facial disk is pale ochre-tawny in Eurasia and Africa and rufous-colored in North America.

Found in Songbird ReMix Owls of the World Volume 1

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